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John Bardo, former chancellor of Western Carolina University, is being paid $280,000 this year to retool for a return to the classroom and to conduct academic research.

Bardo wrote that his research concerns the relationships between higher education, the economy and community development. The theme is a familiar one that he often addressed and promoted during his time as WCU’s chancellor.

“This is a particularly important question given changes in the economy related to technology and globalization,” the former chancellor wrote in an email interview, adding that the work has required assembling a large-scale database on all 50 states.

“… that has allowed me to look at statistical predictors of unemployment, the demand for educated workers, median household income, and per capita state GDP,” Bardo wrote. “Also as a part of this work I have been able to identify statistical structural components of the state-level new economy; structural components of university activities; and structural components of enrollment characteristics of students. Using these components I have been able to successfully statistically predict differences among the states in the key economic variables described above.”

Bardo noted that he’s building a  “live database,” so that he can add variables as they become available, allowing him to extend the analysis.

SEE ALSO: Retired WCU chancellor still on the payroll

Bardo wrote that his research would help provide an in-depth look at the nature of universities and how they link to the needs of the states, regions, and communities. The former chancellor said that he’s at work on a book-length manuscript that would make specific recommendations on two fronts:

• Ways that states might re-structure their higher education institutions to align them more with changing external conditions.

• How these recommendations affect internal university operations.

“Obviously, this research could have implications for policy in North Carolina as well as nationally,” Bardo wrote in the email.

Additionally, the former chancellor said that he’s spending time relearning software for one of his primary academic areas, “the application of research methodology and applied statistics to understanding real world problems.”

“As you can imagine, in the decades during which I was in administration a great deal changed with regard to software that supports teaching and research,” Bardo wrote. “Part of my work has involved learning the new version of the key software that supports this area of teaching. It is very different than it was two decades ago.”

Western Carolina University won the three-week "Battle of the Plug" challenge against Appalachian State University, reporting a higher percentage of reduced energy usage in residence halls.

From Feb. 13 to March 2, WCU residential facilities reported a 7.5 percent reduction in energy usage while ASU reported a 2.4 percent reduction. ASU posted a congratulatory message to WCU on its energy saving tips website.

"The rivalry and students' desire to 'Beat App' sparked a lot of excitement and involvement in the competition – more than any other energy savings initiative on campus that I've seen," said Lauren Bishop, energy manager.

During the contest, WCU reduced energy usage by more than 38,000 kilowatt-hours, which is enough to power more than three homes in America for a year based on statistics from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

WCU and ASU entered the challenge within the framework of participating in the national energy conservation competition called Campus Conservation Nationals. Institutions across the nation track and report their electricity and water use as part of the contest, which was created by the Center for Green Schools at the U.S. Green Building Council and sponsored in partnership with Lucid, Alliance to Save Energy and the National Wildlife Federation.

The "Battle of the Plug" name is a spinoff from the WCU-ASU football rivalry in which teams compete in the "Battle for the Old Mountain Jug." Bishop and Virginia Fowler, residential living's assistant director for facilities, teamed up with several student organizations, including the EcoCats and Student Government Association, to promote the contest and energy savings information. or 828.227.3562.

From written word to silver screen, Western Carolina University's Spring Literary Festival will celebrate its 10th year by featuring two authors whose works have been tagged for the silver screen.

Novelist and poet Ray Rash will kick off the festival, and memoirist Nick Flynn will deliver the keynote speech. Both have books that are or have been turned into feature length films.

Rash, WCU's Parris Distinguished Professor of Appalachian Culture, will participate in a question-and-answer session with audience members beginning at 8 p.m. on March 20 in the University Center theater.

A film adaptation of Rash's Serena, a 2008 novel about the ambitious wife of a timber baron set in Depression-era Western North Carolina, is set for release in 2014. Rash's newest novel The Cove will be published in April.

Nick Flynn will close the festival with a reading at 7:30 p.m., March 22, in the recital hall of the Coulter Building. Flynn's 2004 memoir recounts the author's encounter with his long-absent father while working in a Boston homeless shelter. The work was adapted and recently released as the feature film "Being Flynn," directed by Paul Weitz and starring Robert De Niro, Paul Dano and Julianne Moore. Flynn authored a second memoir The Ticking Is the Bomb, which was published in 2010, and a companion collection of poems in 2011.

All events are in the A.K. Hinds University Center or the recital hall of the Coulter Building on the WCU campus. Events are free and open to the public, and authors will sign works after each reading.

This year's festival also includes a performance of "The Becky Show," a multimedia exploration of a "white trash childhood" by Rebecca Hardin-Thrift, at noon on March 22 in Illusions in the University Center. Hardin-Thrift writes short stories and poetry.

Other featured authors this year are Mary Adams, Catherine Carter and Deidre Elliott, all of WCU's Department of English; and Shirlette Ammons, Darnell Arnoult, Joseph Bathanti, Stefan Merrill Block, David Joy, Jon Pineda and Glenis Redmond.

WCU's Spring Literary Festival has a long tradition of bringing established and emerging literary talent to Western North Carolina. Again this year, festival organizers donated copies of works by featured authors to the public libraries in Sylva, Franklin, Bryson City and Highlands.

More information about the festival is available by calling 828.227.7264 or emailing This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Visit the festival website at 


Ron Rash is the author of the 2009 PEN/Faulkner finalist and New York Times best-selling novel Serena, in addition to three other prizewinning novels: One Foot in Eden, Saints at the River and The World Made Straight. Rash has also written four collections of poems and four collections of stories, among them Burning Bright, which won the 2010 Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award, and Chemistry and Other Stories, which was a finalist for the 2007 PEN/Faulkner Award. His newest novel The Cove will be published in April.


Mary Adams is a child of the snow-and-steel belt, and she writes poetry and rescues dogs in Sylva. Her books include Epistles from the Planet Photosynthesis and Commandment. She teaches Shakespeare and biblical literature. Her poems have appeared in Western Humanities Review, Asheville Poetry Review, Shenandoah, North American Review and Gulf Coast, among others. Her honors include a Michener grant and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.


Shirlette Ammons is a poet, writer, musician and coordinator of an arts program for children. She is also a Cave Canem Fellow. Her second collection of poetry, entitled Matching Skin, was published by Carolina Wren Press in 2008 and features an introduction by Nikky Finney, 2011 National Book Award Winner for Poetry. Ammons' first collection of poetry, titled Stumphole: Aunthology of Bakwoods Blood was published in 2002. She is vocalist songwriter for hip-hop rock band Mosadi Music.


Darnell Arnoult is writer-in-residence and assistant professor of English at Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tenn. Author of the prizewinning collection What Travels With Us: Poems and the novel Sufficient Grace, she is a regular faculty member of the Table Rock Writers Workshop, Tennessee Young Writers Workshop, John C. Campbell Folk School, Learning Events and the Appalachian Writers Workshop. Arnoult has received the Weatherford Award for Appalachian Literature, SIBA Poetry Book of the Year and in 2007 was named Tennessee Writer of the Year.


Joseph Bathanti, a native of Pittsburgh, is professor of creative writing at Appalachian State University in Boone, where he also is the writer-in-residence for the university's Watauga Global Community. He was named the Gilbert-Chappell Distinguished Poet for the Western Region for the North Carolina Poetry Society for 2011-12. Bathanti is the author of six books of poetry, including This Metal, which was nominated for the National Book Award. Bathanti is also the author of the novels East Liberty, winner of the Carolina Novel Award, and Coventry, winner of the 2006 Novello Literary Award.


Born in 1982, Stefan Merrill Block grew up in Plano, Texas. His first book, The Story of Forgetting, was an international bestseller and the winner of Best First Fiction at the Rome International Festival of Literature, the 2008 Merck Serono Literature Prize and the 2009 Fiction Award from the Writers' League of Texas. Following the publication of his second novel, The Storm at the Door, Block was awarded the University of Texas Dobie Paisano Fellowship and a fellowship at the Santa Maddalena Foundation in Italy. He currently lives in Brooklyn.


Born on the eastern shore of Maryland and raised there by wolves and vultures, Catherine Carter now lives in Cullowhee with her husband. She teaches at Western Carolina University, where she coordinates the English education program. Her first full-length collection, The Memory of Gills, received the 2007 Roanoke-Chowan Award from the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association; her poem "Toast" won the 2009 North Carolina Writers' Network Randall Jarrell award. Her new book is The Swamp Monster at Home.


Raised in the Great Plains, Deidre Elliott's creative nonfiction appears in numerous journals as well as in the anthologies Getting Over the Color Green: Contemporary Environmental Literature of the Southwest and Hell's Half-Mile: River Runners' Tales of Hilarity and Misadventure. Her fiction appears in the anthology Cold Flashes: Literary Snapshots of Alaska. She has recently completed a collection of essays, Dry Eden: A Desert Commonplace Book. Currently, she coordinates the Professional Writing Program and teaches in English at Western Carolina University.


Nick Flynn's most recent book is The Captain Asks for a Show of Hands, a collection of poems linked to his latest memoir The Ticking Is the Bomb, which the Los Angeles Times calls a "disquieting masterpiece." His previous memoir, Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, was shortlisted for France's Prix Femina. The book was transformed into a film "Being Flynn" starring Robert De Niro, Paul Dano and Julianne Moore. He is credited as an executive producer and artistic collaborator for the movie. He has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the Library of Congress and is a professor in the creative writing program at the University of Houston.


Glenis Redmond is a widely published and award-winning poet from Greenville, S.C. Her latest book of poems is Under the Sun. Her poems have appeared in Meridians, Heartstone, Black Arts Quarterly, Obsidian II: Black Literature in Review, Emrys Journal, Bum Rush the Page: Def Poetry Jam, Poetry Slam: The Competitive Art of Performance Poetry and Femspec. She is a recipient of the Denny C. Plattner Award for Outstanding Poetry, is a Kennedy Center Teaching Artist, a North Carolina Arts Council Literary Fellow, a Cave Canem Fellow and a Hermitage Fellow.


Jon Pineda is the author of the memoir Sleep in Me, a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Selection and a Library Journal Best Books of 2010 selection. He is also the author of the poetry collections The Translator's Diary, winner of the 2007 Green Rose Prize, and Birthmark, selected by Ralph Burns as winner of the 2003 Crab Orchard Award Series in Poetry Open Competition. He currently teaches creative writing at Queens University of Charlotte.


David Joy grew up in Charlotte and earned a bachelor of arts in 2007 and a master's degree in professional writing in 2009, both from Western Carolina University. His first book Growing Gills: A Fly Fisherman's Journey was published in 2011 and was a finalist for the SELC Reed Award for Outstanding Writing on the Southern Environment. Critics called the book "a classic to which readers will keep returning." His creative nonfiction has appeared in Bird Watcher's Digest, The Wilderness House Literary Review and Smoky Mountain Living. He currently lives in Glenville, where he works as a staff writer and columnist for Crossroads Chronicle.


Rebecca Hardin-Thrift is originally from Belmont. In 2002, she wrote and performed her one-woman show "The Becky Show" in Northampton, Mass., and at the New York International Fringe Festival. Hardin-Thrift is an associate professor of English at Tougaloo College in Jackson, Miss., where she teaches creative writing and drama. Her short stories and poetry have appeared in Washington Square, The Bellevue Literary Review, Karamu and others.

Schedule of Events


7:30 p.m.: Poet Glenis Redmond

(UC theater)


12 p.m.: Gilbert Chappell

Distinguished Poetry Reading (student

poets) featuring distinguished poet

Joseph Bathanti (UC theater)

4 p.m.: Memoirist and poet Jon Pineda (UC theater)

7:30 p.m.: Novelist Stefan Merrill Block (UC theater)


1 p.m.: Screening of "Being Flynn"

(UC theater)

4 p.m.: Poets Catherine Carter and

Mary Adams (UC theater)

8 p.m.: Novelist Ron Rash in an

emceed audience Q&A with Rob

Neufeld of the Asheville Citizen-Times

(UC theater)


4 p.m.: Fiction writer Darnell Arnoult

(UC theater)

7:30 p.m.: Creative nonfiction writers

Deidre Elliott and David Joy

(UC theater)


12 p.m.: Rebecca Hardin-Thrift's

"The Becky Show" (UC Illusions)

4 p.m.: Poet Shirlette Ammons

(recital hall, Coulter Building)

7:30 p.m.: Memoirist Nick Flynn

(recital hall, Coulter Building)

Sylva might not exactly be your classic college town — it's certainly not Chapel Hill or Boone. But efforts to bind this community with Western Carolina University have taken catamount-like bounds forward recently.

The evidence?

First, there's a "paint the towns purple" week running Monday, March 19, through Friday, March 23, with students and campus groups adorning storefronts in the official purple and gold colors of WCU. This decking out of Sylva, Dillsboro and the Cullowhee area foreshadows the official installation of new Chancellor David Belcher. He interviewed for the job just more than a year ago, and officially started last July, but the installation ceremony takes place Thursday, March 29.

Secondly, there's the fact that WCU's "First Couple," Chancellor Belcher and wife Susan, are on a first-name basis with many business owners in town. Previous sightings of top WCU administrators in town were as rare as spotting actual catamounts stalking Sylva's downtown district.

These days, though, there's a new top cat in town.

'Purple pride'

T.J. Eaves, president of WCU's Student Government Association, said that he believes the "paint the towns" purple event will help introduce more students to businesses off-campus, and help business owners in turn promote "purple pride."

"We're really looking forward to it," said Eaves, who added that "when students do get downtown, maybe they'll keep on going" after the event ends.

Randy Hooper and his wife, Debbie, own Bryson Farm Supply & Natural and Organic Food Store on N.C. 107 in Sylva. Hooper said that it's easy to underestimate the importance of WCU to the local economy, and to the financial wellbeing of his particular business as well.

"It would surprise you," Hooper said, explaining that in addition to selling food items to students and a complete inventory of food, garden and lawn items to faculty and staff, WCU's grounds crew buys much of the material for campus from Bryson Farm Supply.

"We get really good support from them," Hooper said, who wasn't sure yet what role his business might play in the paint the towns purple event.

Special deals will be offered all day March 26 by local merchants and restaurants to WCU students, faculty and staff who show their university identification cards.

Sylva town board member Lynda Sossamon, a WCU graduate and co-owner of Radio Shack, said in a prepared news release that the events are "a great reminder" of how important WCU is to Jackson County's communities.

"This is a great way to bring students, faculty and staff into Sylva and Dillsboro and to get members of the community, some of whom may have never set foot on campus, to go to campus," she said. "We truly are a part of WCU, and WCU is a part of Sylva and all of Jackson County."

Forging friendships

Dieter Kuhn, who with his wife, Sheryl Rudd, owns Heinzelmännchen Brewery, is at something of a loss to describe the first time he met the Belchers. Chancellor Belcher promptly engaged Kuhn in a lengthy intricate conversation — in the German language.

"He is totally fluent," said Kuhn, a transplant from Germany to the U.S., still clearly delighted with the unexpected language and cultural exchange with WCU's man at the helm.

Students under 21 can get birch beer and root beer at Heinzelmännchen Brewery; graduate students and faculty and staff can get the real stuff, and often do, Rudd said when asked about how important a role WCU plays at this back street in Sylva business.

Hannah Armstrong, who started as a WCU intern at Heinzelmännchen Brewery and now works for the business part time after graduating two years ago, said Sylva has a long way to go before becoming a true college town, however.

"The students are unaware in general that Sylva is even here," the Greensboro transplant said, adding that most WCU students tend to travel to Asheville for shopping and entertainment. Or they simply build bonfires in their yards and drink beer beside them there, Armstrong said.

Rudd hopes to see that indifference change. She was attired appropriately in a purple-colored shirt, and was working at the brewery on Saturday in part to adorn the business' front window in the school's colors. Rudd said that simply by being who they are — friendly and unassuming — the Belchers have begun changing the equation between the university and the community. And for the better, at least in her view.

"It has been wonderful to see them in downtown as customers," Rudd said. "They have actual conversations with you."

This was not what the town's business owners experienced in the past. Previous WCU administrators have had little to do with the local community, at least not in a direct fashion via business owners or other regular folks. In addition to the visibility of the Belchers, relations between WCU and Jackson County have seen additional improvement thanks to the rebirth of WCU's retired financial officer Chuck Wooten, who is now serving as Jackson County's manager.

Bernadette Peters' experience with this suddenly friendly WCU has been similar to that of Rudd's and Kuhn's: extremely positive. Peters is the owner of City Lights Café, located just off of Sylva's Main Street on East Jackson Street. The café's official color logo-wise is purple, giving Peters a head start on the paint the towns purple event.

The café is a frequent hangout for university types. Some of WCU's information technology crew meets there on occasion; several graduate students routinely study in the café.

Peters spoke warmly of David and Susan Belcher and the couple's visible presence in the community that is now their home.

"They call you by name," Peters said in a tone of some wonderment.

Special events

March 26 is being set aside as a day of special events in honor of the installation of David Belcher as chancellor of Western Carolina University. The day will be capped by a program at Sylva's Jackson County Public Library at 7 p.m. called "Reflections on Place: An Evening with Distinguished Storytellers" featuring Cherokee storyteller Jerry Wolfe; former N.C. Poet Laureate Kathryn Stripling Byer; and Ron Rash, WCU's Parris Distinguished Professor of Appalachian Culture and author of The New York Times best-seller Serena. It will be followed by a reception.

A new strategic plan for Western Carolina University that will guide the institution's overall direction for the coming decade will be unveiled at a public forum next month.

WCU Chancellor David Belcher appointed a 36-member committee last fall to develop the plan. The group has regularly met since and is made up of representatives from within the university community and from the broader region. The planning process has included additional university and community members on various subcommittees.

The university's last strategic plan was implemented in 2008. This was prior to the economic downturn and before the state made massive cuts to its budget.

Belcher told members of WCU's board of trustees last week that he intends to bring them the plan for review in June.

But the public will get a first crack at the plan in a forum on Tuesday, April 17.

"We'll put the final draft of the plan out for consumption and invite final feedback from all quarters," said Melissa Wargo, an assistant vice chancellor in institutional research and effective planning who has led the strategic planning process.

Wargo said the planning group developed six strategic directions. These were:

• Fulfilling the educational needs of the state and region.

• Enriching the total student experience.

• Enhancing community partnerships.

• Investing in faculty and staff.

• Investing in core resources.

• Garnering support for this vision.

"These are the things that guide and inspire us, and as an institution in general," she said to the board of trustees.

Among the ideas for enhancing community partnerships is to assist in community revitalization efforts, identify and assist in economic development activities, and support local governments and schools.

"One of the things we heard strongly from the community ... was that we need to do a better job of enhancing our community partnership," Wargo said.

Paige Roberson is a member of that subcommittee. She works in planning for Jackson County and on downtown and economic development issues for Sylva. Roberson said the vision and desires of WCU to be inclusive are still much stronger than the reality. Roberson, a WCU graduate, said that she was the only Sylva community member on that community subcommittee. The others, she said, were affiliated with WCU.

"I am glad to see efforts taking place," Roberson said. "I did appreciate the interest and that they included me in it. But they need more people from the community involved if they really want community involvement."

Wargo said that one major difficulty for members of the community wanting to interact with WCU is an inability to easily communicate with the university.

"They often don't know what's going on here on campus," she said, suggesting that there might be a need for a single office with an executive level position "to support and coordinate community partnerships."

Also important, she said, is that WCU recognize and understand that "we are an arts and cultural resource for this region, and that we need to deliver on that promise."

Assumptions for WCU's strategic plan

• WCU will pursue strategically controlled enrollment growth.

• The quality of the student body will increase.

• The economic instability within the state will continue.

• The university's role in, and focus on, Western North Carolina will remain strong while its influence grows across the state and region.

• Fundraising and alternative revenue streams will become more important.

• State funding will be tied to performance.

There is a refinement to Catherine Carter’s poetry, a sense that each poem is finished, polished and complete, worked exactly the right amount and not a jot too much. There’s also in Carter’s poems an edge, a whiff of wild abandon lurking just beneath the placid surface.

This accomplished poet once published a romance novel under a pseudonym. And Carter remains fascinated by this often-maligned genre: She hopes one day to write another romance novel.

“It really was fun, and I would like to do it again,” Carter said. “I might have to try other genres first, though — it’s the generic conventions that make genre fiction most fascinating, the what-can-I-change and still have it be genre? Is it still romance if the big good-looking dominant guy is a villain? Still mystery if the detective’s kind of a goof who doesn’t solve the puzzle by intellect? Still a western if the hero talks about his feelings without being tied to a stake first, or isn’t white, or doesn’t like horses? The only way to find out is to write the book, unless someone else has already done it for you.”

These paradoxical crafted-with-care, you-better-watch-out qualities permeate Carter’s just released book of poems, The Swamp Monster at Home, just as they did her previously published book, The Memory of Gills. That book won the 2007 Roanoke-Chowan Award for Poetry.

Carter lives in Jackson County and teaches in Western Carolina University’s English department. She directs the English Education program. Carter is married to Brian Gastle, the English department’s head and a specialist in both medieval literature and professional writing.

Louisiana State University Press published The Swamp Monster at Home. The 68-page book was released Feb. 13.

Dive into Carter’s poems, and you know instantly that here is a person who takes form seriously, even — or most especially — when writing free verse. Carter writes knowing, respecting and honoring the rules of her craft, and she knows exactly when she should consider breaking them. The poems she writes are influenced by traditional poetic form.

That respect for craft shines through the selection of poems in The Swamp Monster at Home.

Carter sounded amused and bemused when talking about students who buck learning form because they fear doing so will “cramp” their style.

“Imagine a carpenter saying that learning to use a plane is going to ‘cramp’ his style,” Carter said, shaking her head in disbelief.

Carter’s poems generally begin as a solitary line that she hears in her mind’s ear.

“If I hear iambic pentameter, I know this is going to be a more formal poem. If it is loose, that tells me something else about the poem,” Carter said.

At age 44, Carter’s poetry is more reflective and perhaps more inwardly open and vulnerable than those pieces she’s published previously. And sense of place is strongly evident, whether Carter is writing about her tidewater home of Greensboro, Md., or about living here in Western North Carolina.

“The sense of place has been a preoccupation from the beginning, but it is a story I can’t seem to stop telling,” Carter said.

Take some of the imagery in the poem “Hydro Plant Accommodates Rafting Industry:”


“All the long drive upstream,

the rocks were knobby-dry,

the stream lay sullen, low and slow,

in broken symmetry.

Its mortal bones exposed.

Its quivering, glinting flesh

was gone to feed the power grid,

its slender nervous fish

cringing in too-warm pools ...

“The temporary flood

was short as autumn love,

with months of dust on either side

no torrent could remove,

but lit the day as love will.

Briefly the stream put on

its spangled flesh to resurrect

the shrunken skeleton.”


Carter grew up in a family that cared about literature. Her father was a biologist and her mother an English teacher. Both are now retired.

“My parents really rock, they are world-class parents,” said Carter.

Asking a writer who has influenced their work isn’t a very fair question, though it’s not unexpected in an interview. The truth is, of course, that everything a writer has ever read influences their subsequent work. That acknowledged, Carter in particular selected the work of Thomas Lux as shaping her later development as a poet. Lux is an internationally recognized writer who teaches at Georgia Tech.

“He has a dark and funny sensibility that really speaks to me,” said Carter, adding that one of her most productive and fulfilling periods as a writer occurred during a workshop/retreat led by Lux.

Carter also spoke with admiration about fellow Jackson County poets and writers Ron Rash and Kay Byer. She credits Byer for persuading LSU Press to seriously consider her first book of poems.

“That they even looked at it was because of Kay, and I owe that to her,” Carter said.

Carter to read at City Lights

Catherine Carter will read from The Swamp Monster at Home at 7 p.m. Friday, March 9, at City Lights Bookstore in Sylva.


A sampling

That Time Again

While I wake in the black

Early morning, the morning

star is Saturn, burning

yellow and steady in the window’s

icewater square like a warning

flare. You lumber toward the shower

and returning day, while in the winter

night Saturn and I

stare at each other, wary,

cold as two diamonds.

You have left your shirt

on the quilt, its warmth

turning thin in the chill.

After a while I lean

out stealthy and quick and catch

it under the cover by its collar,

hide it against my side

where Saturn won’t see.


November Evening, Splitting Firewood

A neighbor drones his leaves away

with a leafblower, another combs

his with a rasping rake, while in my leaves

I stand ankle-deep, braced to the slow

swing of the axe. The damp heavy logs

are splotched bright with fungal jelly

like orange marmalade, like flesh if flesh

were the color of goldfish. Witches’ butter:

in old stories it means a hex.

Maybe I’ll scoop it off the log.

Spread it on my neighbors’ toast,

act for the lost leaves.

Maybe there’ll be a golden quiver, an alien

taste, and then leaves

sifting over their quiet bodies,

slowly covering them under. But I

am the only witch here now,

writing dark thoughts

on the dry paper that whispers

under my soles, changing cold weight

and wood into heat, into light the color

of witches’ butter.


Promise Land

They’ve never seen it spelled,

I guess, only heard it said

in church: so when they write it down,

the Promised Land, heaven, becomes this other

thing, the Promise Land. Their heaven

is the land of promises, where

eternal checks are always in the mail

and every morning finds us in the gym.

Where those jeans, you swear, make me look small.

Where of course Monsanto doesn’t plot

to own each seed of every spear of corn.

Where your senators really read your mail. Where

we’ll see the beloved dead again, and never wish

we hadn’t. And it’s the land where you and I

can each admire and like and love the other

forever, forever, I promise, forever.

Things have gotten slightly darker at Western Carolina University.

The Cullowhee-based college is battling Boone’s Appalachian State University in the “Battle of the Plug.” A play on their football competition, Battle of the Old Mountain Jug, this battle pits the two rivals against each other for the benefit of the environment.

University sustainability officials are encouraging students living in the dorms to unplug and turn-off whatever and whenever possible. Professors are also being asked to teach their classes in the dark. But it is also the little things — like unplugging cell phone chargers when not in use to avoid a so-called “vampire load” — that can add up on a collective scale.

“The ability to beat App is up to everybody,” said Lauren Bishop, energy manager at WCU. “Students seem really excited about it this year, which makes me excited.”

Officials are measuring which campus residence hall saves the greatest percentage of energy, as well as how the overall reduction in energy use compares with participating institutions, including App State. WCU kicked off the three-week long event on Feb. 13.

Although Bishop is an App State grad herself, there’s no love lost when it comes to this energy competition. Despite her App State ties, Bishop assures that she bleeds purple.

“I have more of my energy invested in this school,” she said.

Bishop contacted App State with the idea of holding an energy competition a few years ago, but at the time, they had no way to track their energy savings. That is until the Center for Green Schools, an environmentally conscience nonprofit, created Campus Conservation Nationals, a countrywide electricity and water use reduction competition among colleges and universities. The nonprofit provided an online platform for schools to catalog their conservation efforts.

As of Monday, with 22 days left in the competition, App State was narrowly beating WCU.

If WCU hopes to pull off a win, it will need to work to shift the way students act and show them how much energy is indeed saved when they take a five- instead of 10-minute shower or turn the lights off when they leave a room.

“It is behavior change,” said Caden Painter, an energy management specialist at WCU. “We will continue to host activities that will promote this behavior change.”

Signs are posted around WCU reminding students about the competition, and Bishop has reached out to student groups to help spread the word.

“Peer-to-peer communication is still the most effective way,” she said.

Bishop has been receiving steady requests from resident assistants and student groups to lead sustainability-related events, such as a green energy trivia night. Participation is reaching “critical mass,” she said.

Bishop hopes that they will be able to keep the momentum going even after the competition ends.


Sustaining its energy focus

All state colleges and universities must lessen their energy consumption 30 percent by 2015 — a feat that WCU has already attained. WCU was the first, and in fact only, university in the state to meet the mandatory energy reduction goal.

“We are the only ones maintaining it,” Bishop said.

But the university isn’t resting on those laurels.

With the installation of a new chancellor, the university has begun work on its new vision — which includes more energy savings.

“Sustainability is a big piece of that,” Bishop said.

The best and easiest way to be sustainable, according to Bishop, is simply monitoring usage levels.

The university spends nearly $1 million on utility bills each year, Bishop said.

WCU has started “aggressively” scheduling classes and events so that buildings not in use can be essentially shut down, she said.

WCU also plans to debut its own program for keeping track of its energy usage at some point in the future. Harrill Hall, which is currently under renovation and will reopen with a gold LEED certification, will feature a screen displaying that residence hall’s usage data, Bishop said.

The school has one other LEED-certified building; its’ Health and Human Sciences building is certified at the silver level. However, sustainability has been a part of WCU’s construction planning for several years.

“We have started to make that more of a priority in the building,” Painter said.

Although they are not certified, the Fine and Performing Arts Center and the Center for Applied Technology building are “pretty energy efficient,” Bishop said.

It is considerably easier to construct more sustainable buildings that use various forms of energy more effective than to condition humans to change their behavior.

“I think it’s more taking the control out of the end user,” Bishop said. “Building better buildings.”

Ron Rash’s novel, Serena, was birthed in an image: his mind’s eye pictured a woman on horseback. From the woman’s posture on that horse, her very way of being, Rash said he knew this would be a novel about a very singular human being indeed.

“I knew she was very strong,” said the writer, who teaches at Western Carolina University and lives near Sylva. “And that someone was looking at her with fear and love.”

This image of Serena, which Rash developed into the bestselling 2008-released novel, has now spurred a major motion picture. The film version of Serena is set for release in 2014.

Serena, the novel, is set in Haywood County.

Actor Bradley Cooper and actress Jennifer Lawrence, who recently played leading roles in the to-be-released David O. Russell movie, “The Silver Linings Playbook,” will team together again in the movie “Serena.” Lawrence was in North Carolina last year for filming of “The Hunger Games,” to be released next month.  

The location of filming for “Serena” has not been announced.

Rash’s Depression-era set novel relates the story of timber baron George Pemberton, who is married to Serena. The couple moves to Western North Carolina to create a business empire. When Serena discovers she cannot bear children, her anger becomes directed toward her husband’s illegitimate son. Cooper and Lawrence will portray George and Serena Pemberton.

Academy Award winner Susanne Bier will direct the movie for 2929 Productions. Bier recently finished work on an Italian drama with Pierce Brosnan titled “All You Need Is Love.” Her other films are “Things We Lost in the Fire” and “In a Better World.”

Rash said he will not be involved in the movie’s production, but that he’s “very pleased” that the novel will be produced in film form. Rash hasn’t seen the screenplay. He didn’t, however, seem particularly worried or concerned about how his novel might be tailored to fit the big screen. The movie and novel are two separate retellings, entirely different works of art, he indicated.

“It’s out of my hands,” Rash said.

These days, the novelist’s attention is much more focused on the upcoming release of his 10th work of fiction and his fifth novel, The Cove. It will be released April 10. The Cove is set in Western North Carolina during World War I.

Rash’s fiction include the short story collection “Burning Bright,” which garnered him the Frank O’Connor Short Story Award, the world’s richest prize for the short story literary form.

“He is Appalachia’s most accessible writer who not only treats our history and culture with integrity, but has gained an amazing audience,” said Gary Carden of Sylva, a storyteller and writer with deep family roots to WNC and a frequent book reviewer for The Smoky Mountain News. “(Rash) is, in every sense of the word, an advocate for the spirit of Appalachia.”


How the sausage is made

Writing is hard for everyone, even an experienced writer who so adeptly brings stories to life as Rash. It generally takes him about three years to put a single novel together — “that’s typical,” he said.

Rash locks himself in a room, at home on Locust Creek Road in Sylva or at his office at WCU, and works. And really works, for up to six hours at a time: no music, no noise and no interruptions.

“I must be by myself,” Rash said in explanation. “I need solitude. You have to get really deep into it and enter that world as a writer.”

The image is always the beginning for this writer, as it was in Serena, he said. But there are hours and days and weeks and months of historical research, too. Readers of Serena are usually struck by the painstakingly accurate historical detail, portrayals that ring true to those familiar with these mountains. And the fact is, Rash tries to be representative of what he’s portraying.

“On Serena I did a huge amount of research,” said Rash, a descendant of Southern Appalachian families who was raised in Boiling Springs.

He studied and read about the formation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and about the conflicts that arose between those conservation efforts and the timber interests, through books, newspapers and whatever he could get his hands on.

Rash doesn’t simply regurgitate research and fob it off as fiction: always there are those guiding images, those flashes of meaning and insight that characterize this novelist’s work.

The research confirmed the power wielded historically by these timber barons. The image, however, for Rash was discovered when, on a trip to Lake Logan in Haywood County, he observed a table made from a single piece of yellow poplar, a table forged from a large tree. The table struck the novelist as being a trophy. A trophy, that is, for the timber barons.

From such images Rash wove his novel, Serena.  

The Cove, Rash’s forthcoming novel, hasn’t been birthed easily. This experienced writer hit writing roadblocks he’d not experienced before.

“This last novel has been so difficult,” Rash said. “It seemed more difficult than the ones before. I just seemed to take a lot of wrong turns. After two years, I was ready to give up on it, but I didn’t because I’d put so much time into it by then.”

Ultimately, Rash worked out the problems. He described himself as satisfied and happy with The Cove.

Despite ever-increasing recognition as an accomplished and important fiction writer, Rash said he plans on staying and teaching at WCU.

“I love teaching,” he said. “And I enjoy my students. I think their enthusiasm is good for me — it helps keep me alive to the wonder of writing.”

Western Carolina University has launched a pay study to determine whether male employees are paid more than their female counterparts when doing the same jobs.

The study is expected to take up to two years to complete. It has been some seven years since a formal task force studied salaries at WCU. That was a true labor market study, and not related to gender equity, according to university administrators.

“I think that this is important to do because this type of study has not been conducted in some years,” WCU Chancellor David Belcher wrote in an email to The Smoky Mountain News. “While one can point to there not having been salary increases in recent years as a reason for not pursuing such a study, I think that, nonetheless, it is important for us to understand our current status and situation, knowledge of which will be important context for us in making decisions when money for salary increases is made available.”

Cash-strapped North Carolina isn’t expected to dole out money for raises anytime soon, regardless of study results. WCU professors and staff last received an increase four years ago.

News of the pay review is triggering intense interest on campus, where many faculty and staff have long suspected, believed or oft speculated whether there are indeed salary gender inequities in play at WCU.

Psychology Professor Hal Herzog said that it is common practice at most universities such as WCU for faculty members with identical qualifications, experience and work loads to make vastly different salaries.

“The role that sex discrimination plays in these differences is complicated by the fact that faculty salaries are closely tied to the field people are in,” Herzog said.

For example, faculty members in accounting, finance, information systems, and economics — mostly men — make more money than those in the English department — mostly women, he said. A comprehensive analysis of sex differences in pay needs to take factors like these into account, Herzog said, adding that he remained “mystified” why it would take WCU two years to conduct such a study.

“After all, salaries of state employees are a matter of public information,” Herzog said. “This is not rocket science.”

Laura Wright, an associate professor in WCU’s English department and president of WCU’s chapter of the American Association of University Women’s Tarheel Branch, said the two-year block of time seems in line with a similar study proposal by the group. The national group focuses on such issues as gender equity, and local members wanted to formally examine WCU’s salaries.

“That’s not any different from our proposed timeline, so I am not comfortable saying that two years is too long,” Wright said. Wright added that she’d like it “put forth,” however, that she is an English professor and not a statistician.

Wright said what does disturb her, on the face of it, is the disparity in the number of full professors and women in leadership positions at the Cullowhee university.

“I know that these discrepancies are not and cannot be the result of women doing less and inferior work,” she said. “They are the product of a university culture that has historically not fostered and supported women’s leadership and advancement.

“The fact that Chancellor Belcher has chosen to explore this issue seems like a good thing to me,” Wright said, adding that she fully supports his efforts to identify and rectify possible inequities.

A student club at Western Carolina University is defending its decision to pair a drag show featuring “kings” and “queens” from across the state with a get-out-the-vote drive aimed at defeating a proposed state constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriages.

“We could open up a shelter for puppies and those who hate us would still hate us; that’s no matter what we do, drag show or no drag show,” said Katlyn Williams, 19, a WCU student from Andrews.

The drag show is an exclamation point on a day filled with educational events about Amendment One. Gay-marriage supporters believe an anti-gay marriage amendment would constitutionalize state-abetted discrimination in North Carolina.

This is not the first drag show at WCU. A drag show held last April at the University Center at WCU attracted upwards of 450 spectators, according to members of the student group UNITY!

“We have not in the past few years had any issues with the community at any of our events,” said club leader Zachery Reedy, 22, a former WCU student from Chicago. Reedy isn’t enrolled this semester. He said that he plans to return to classes at the university to complete a degree.


Drag shows divisive among gays

UNITY! members described the drag shows at the University Center as popular among homosexuals and heterosexuals alike. Audience members, they said, are from both on and off campus.

The shows feature men and women dressed as members of the opposite sex, usually with exaggerated personas, who dance, sing or lip-synch to music. Drag shows are becoming ever-more mainstream with the advent of performers such as RuPaul and the mind-bending, drag-queen imitating Lady Gaga.

But, drag shows historically have been a source of vehement disagreement within the gay and lesbian community. Some gays and lesbians believe the high energy, campy shows fuel stereotypes and further alienate many “straight” people from serious efforts to ensure equality for all. Drag show critics say that queens in particular underscore harmful stereotypes of women — similar to what blackface performances by white entertainers did to demean African Americans.

UNITY! club members reject that argument.

“The reason for the drag show is as an incentive to vote,” Reedy said. “Our goal for this day alone is to register 500 people to vote.”

Reedy and other UNITY! members said they do not believe coupling the drag show with the get-out-the-vote effort trivializes or dilutes the political importance of the event. Nor do they believe it might alienate more mainstream “straight” voters who are undecided about whether to vote against the same-sex marriage ban.

The event, coupled with educational efforts, “is a good opportunity to get all people to vote,” said Megan Bailey, 19, who is from Florida but more recently lived in Wilkesboro.

Bailey is leading the voter-registration portion of WCU’s “Race to the Ballot.”


WCU backs students’ drag-show decision

UNITY! faculty advisor Laura Cruz supported students’ decision to hold a drag show in conjunction with a get-out-the-vote rally. She said her role with the group is to guide, not dictate.

“It is a student organization run for and by students,” said Cruz, who made her way to Western North Carolina from San Francisco. “If I think they are going in a wrong direction, I can steer them another way.”

In this case, however, Cruz said she didn’t perceive the decision to hold a drag show as troublesome. Though, she noted, “there is some controversy within the gay community itself about the meaning of drag.”

But UNITY! sponsors drag shows “all the time” at WCU, said Cruz, who is an associate professor of history. The events lined up for Jan. 27 met the club criteria “for support, social events and advocacy.”

Although the University Center is a building owned and managed by the university, its purpose is to serve as a venue for students.

Sam Miller, WCU vice chancellor for student affairs, said that he believes the get-out-the-vote event, coupled with a drag show, is an appropriate on-campus activity.

“I think the job of a public university is to provide both the intellectual framework for students to explore and learn, as well as the physical venues to do so,” Miller wrote in an email interview. “Learning happens in many surprising ways outside the classroom experience. It takes leadership, knowledge and organizational skills to pull off a successful event. The university has a responsibility to stand behind our students and facilitate their learning in their events and activities, as well as the classroom.”

Miller wrote that the University Center was built to help create and support a “broad range” of student-created programs. The University Center, residence halls and similar on-campus facilities are paid for through student fees, Miller noted.

Zero state or tuition dollars are used to pay for social or entertainment-focused student activities, though state funds are used to help support “unique learning opportunities” such as special lectures or other events created in support of curriculum, Miller wrote.

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